politics

Osaka mayor weighs in on school lunch debate

20 Comments
By Fran Wrigley

He’s known for his outspoken and often controversial opinions, from saying that civil servants who have tattoos should resign, to denying the forcible recruitment of South Korean “comfort women” during the second world war.

But it was an intense debate about whether students should be allowed to have "furikake" seasoning with their school lunch that left Mayor Toru Hashimoto scratching his head as he asked the Osaka Board of Education: “What’s wrong with furikake?!”

Cold, unappetising and tasteless is how junior high students in Osaka describe their school lunches. And kids have been voting with their chopsticks, leaving lunches uneaten. With 70% of students failing to finish their school lunch, the city Board of Education has been discussing ways to get them to clear their plates.

“More students might eat their rice if they could have 'furikake' [with school lunch]”, teachers suggested in a meeting on Nov 25. Hashimoto then asked in amazement, “Furikake wa dame nan desu ka?” which translates as “What’s wrong with furikake?” or “Why can’t they have furikake?”

"Furikake" is a flaked flavouring that is sprinkled on rice. It comes in all kinds of flavors, but it’s typically fishy with seaweed, and is a popular and effective way to get Japanese kids to eat up their bowl of plain rice.

So what’s the problem with "furikake?" Well, typically, school lunches in Japan are rice-heavy and well-balanced. But "furikake" is high in salt, and allowing kids to use it might undo the careful balance of the healthy meal they’re being served. On the other hand, some say that the negative effects of higher salt intake might be offset by the benefit of students actually finishing their meals.

School meal uptake in Japan is impressively high, and students are expected to eat the whole thing with no leftovers. But in Osaka, where bringing lunch from home has long been the norm, school lunches are a recent development. In 2011, only 11% of junior high students in Osaka were having a “full school lunch” including milk, compared to a national average of 76%. Amid concern that some homemade lunches were not healthy enough, school lunches were rolled out across the city.

But to keep costs down, lunches in Osaka are prepared elsewhere, refrigerated, and delivered to schools. The problem is, lots of kids don’t like chilled lunch.

On the "furikake" question specifically, the debate lasted 10 minutes and did not come to any concrete conclusions; the board decided to consult with experts before taking any further action. Will flaked seasonings be allowed in Osaka’s schools? Hashimoto was insistent that schools must be allowed to decide for themselves without interference from the city government.

Sources: Sankei Shimbun/Yahoo, Naver Matome

Read more stories from RocketNews24. -- Our Japanese reporter’s encounter with American school lunch -- Concern As Contractor Refuses To Provide School Lunches When Faced With Radiation Checks -- We can’t stop watching this dog eat corn on the cob

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20 Comments
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They should make the board of education eat Osaka school lunches until the problem is fixed.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

As usual, they address the symptom, not the problem. Why don't take a bit more effort and make the lunches taste better. Throwing flavored salt does not solve the problem, but most likely will create other long-term issues.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Marie Antoinette

"Qu'ils mangent de la brioche!" or Let them eat cake!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

If 70% of the students fail to finish their school lunch, there has to be something fundamentally bad about school lunch in Osaka City. And it could very well be that the remaining 30% of the students, who do manage to finish their school lunch, might be so hungry that they had no choice but eat what is provided for them. Why not wait until some improvement has been made in the way school lunch is prepared and served before forcing students to eat what are apparently tasteless meals? Letting students use furikake, which is essentially salt, is just avoiding the real problem. I don't hear similar problems happening in other cities. It isn't a coincident that this has been happening only in Osaka City, where Hashimoto as Mayor tries to dictate everything.

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WilliB Dec. 01, 2014 - 01:18AM JST

This maybe the first time I completely agree with Hashimoto.

Good grief Japan, get rid of those food nazis who want to prohibit furikake

When my miniature schnauzer won't eat something I don't usually sprinkle artificial tasties on top! I might try warming it if it's cold but I take care not to put artificial anything into his food. If he will not eat something I move on instead of starving him and find something that suits his taste BUT healthy and it has proved to be a challenge, and one I take on mind you because I care deeply about is health and feelings.

Is it too much to ask the same of those who are taking care of our children to not simply sugar coat the problem? At least they could first try warming the damn stuffinstead of serving it it cold which worked for me when I was in the infantry. Anything tastes better hot and lots of kids don’t like a chilled lunch.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

This maybe the first time I completely agree with Hashimoto.

Good grief Japan, get rid of those food nazis who want to prohibit furikake.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Those kids are way too lucky and they don't even know that. If the food isn't palatable then it must be healthy. Everything is a study in discipline. Otherwise, they shld just be home schooled.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Here's an idea. Build local school lunch centres like we have in our city. The food gets trucked in hot to each school and served hot by the students in each class. The problem is cold, refrigerated food shipped in from who knows where. And if making the lunches yourself is too much of an oversight, give the contract to on of the Osaka bento companies. I'm sure they'd love the business.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Why not cook the rice with pumpkin or peas or a natural food? Would it be considered deviating from the culture? The kids like making onigiri. Add more nori with rice meals then.

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I don't understand why they don't make it optional for the students or their parents whether to have school lunch or bring their own lunch from home. I hear that the second- and third-year students are allowed this option. Why force just the first-year students to eat something so bad that 70 % of them fail to finish their lunch?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Maybe kids should be able to chose what they eat as long as it is balanced-why the debate?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I have images of furikake dealers hanging around school gates. "The first 2-gram bag is free, kid."

I've always thought it says something about the state of a society when politicians are discussing the contents of school lunches. But I'm still not sure what it signifies. (It happens here in Scotland. This week, the big story from Aberdeen is whether to allow kids to eat sandwiches.)

"Hashimoto was insistent that schools must be allowed to decide for themselves without interference from the city government." These may be the first sensible words I have heard from the man.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Furikake, junk food! OD-ing on furikake, which comes in packets of 1.9 grams, seems a remote possibility.

And on rice. Many farmers produce very tasty rice that you won't find in your local super store or supermarkets. If you've never had it of course you won't know what it tastes like. Another fact is that many people don't know how to properly cook rice. Unfortunately the local government budget cannot afford tasty rice for the school kids. They should hire someone like Jamie Oliver. Until they do furikake souns fine to me.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

I checked furikake Jars. 1 wakame, 1 nori. There is no aji no moto. Very low sodium, from nori and wakame. Gomas were in there.

Japanese eat short grain white rice. I read Japanese has longer life. So. white rice help us overliving?

0 ( +3 / -3 )

With 70% of students failing to finish their school lunch, the city Board of Education has been discussing ways to get them to clear their plates.

Maybe you should consider a remedy to the problem by looking at the following!

But to keep costs down, lunches in Osaka are prepared elsewhere, refrigerated, and delivered to schools. The problem is, lots of kids don’t like chilled lunch.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

With 70% of students failing to finish their school lunch, the city Board of Education has been discussing ways to get them to clear their plates.

That's a pretty high percentage. People should eat all their food.

These kids are extremely lucky to live in a country and go to a school system that provides adequate and nutritious food.

I'm certain the WWII and post-WWII generation are shaking their heads in disbelief.

They know food is a treasure and what it was like to go without unlike these spoiled kids and their parents.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

For once I agree with Hashimoto, nothing wrong with a little furikake, or, even better, sesame seed, to flavor up the rice.

Also, ice cream sandwiches should be available for dessert. I had a vanilla ice cream with chocolate wafer sandwich almost every day with my school lunch and I turned out all right, ha ha

0 ( +2 / -2 )

How is "rice-heavy and well balanced" healthy? White rice (along with white bread) has practically no health benefits as they are converted into sugar in the blood. Also, i, too, find plain white rice bland and unappetizing.

-1 ( +4 / -5 )

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